institutional disgracism

26 02 2013

We can’t move for distrust at the moment. Trust in the institutions we know and take for granted is being dismantled, news report by news report. The BBC, the Police, banks, MPs, supermarkets, Lords, the EU, the Church, the NHS, Premier League… by the time you read this I will have been be discredited for talking out of my horse.

I’m not sure if it’s real news or lazy news. It is important if there has been a cover-up of historical wrong-doing, yes. Meanwhile Syria burns, Sudan falls apart, and UKIP pretend their breed of selfish nationalism is ‘mainstream’. 

What does it all mean? I know every generation has its ‘what is the world coming to?’ moment, and maybe this is mine, but really, what does it all mean? A suggestion. Our culture has a few meta-narratives that don’t quite work together. One is that the individual is the most important thing. Me and my life. The most important thing is that am able to ‘be myself’. Great. This could work, if humans knew when to stop.

Another meta-narrative is that ‘I’ can be trusted. We don’t need old-fashioned regulation and supervision, we are post-modern, civilised adults. Trust me or you disrespect me. This could work, if humans knew when to stop. 

Worked through to its logical conclusion, without a framework of accountability you end up with people in finance making money for themselves whilst society pays the price. Well, nobody told them they had social responsibility. You end up with politicians/supermarkets/NHS contractors getting the best deal for themselves (and their friends) whilst society pays the price. Well, nobody held them accountable to their social responsibility. The same goes for the church, the Police….

Our institutions are a disgrace, at times, because they are full of disgraceful people, at times. At least, they are full of people. A meta-narrative I hold is that we people, whilst we try to be good, are not very good at it. This is why we ask God to help us. This is why each week in our church we say the sorry prayer, the confession, remembering our wrongdoings of action and inaction. This prevents us from joining in the sport of institutional disgracism, in which we point the finger at everyone else for their wrongdoing, setting ourselves apart from them with the arrogance that comes so easily in the self-righteous. Remembering being the opposite of dismembering. Remembering, in order to put things back together.

Image from ASBO Jesus

This is not to say we let the disgraceful behaviour go on. Of course not. But we challenge is fairly and robustly, and where we are a part of it we do our best to influence for the better. We try not to generalise, ‘all bankers’ are not bad in the same way Jesus did not say all tax collectors were bad. I believe he invited one into his inner circle.  All priests are not bad, in the same way Jesus did not say all Pharisees were bad. I believe he was very kind to Nicodemus.

Jesus slated the institutions as much as we do for their dishonesty, hypocrisy and oversight of the important things. But he did not just shout and point and lead a high horse to an abattoir. No, he was about redeeming from within. Questioning, challenging, holding to account especially for the needs to society over the individual; specifically, the weakest of society over the strongest of individuals. 

So as we continue to hear more and more about why we cannot trust anybody or anything, remember that our third cultural meta-narrative is called inaction. Disconnection. It’s got nothing to do with me. It’s their fault. Abdication of responsibility. Combined with individuality and freedom from accountability, this is the fatal third blow. And as followers of Jesus we cannot subscribe to it.

We are to be people who think and who act, who get cross and then act against injustice or inaction or wrongdoing or whatever. Knowing we too are sinful and we too need forgiveness. We cannot rant and then sit down. Our institutions are people. We are people. Let’s claim them back, not just shout at them. 


rev on rev.

7 07 2010

I’m thinking of writing a letter. it’s that serious. Ann Robinson watch out. After watching 2 episodes of BBC comedy Rev, it is time to complain. Consistently TV portrays church in a negative way, vicars are idiots, whether effeminate and weedy or sinister and murderous, church is dull and irrelevant… and it is never actually funny. Except Dibley, but that was different. Rev is… painfully funny. FUNNY! Painfully close to the mark. It’s like watching The Office except it is in church and I am David Brent. OMG, I want to take my collar off and swear…

he's married to the vicar's wife

I know, it’s not all funny, and I don’t know if people who aren’t churchers find it funny. The old gags are there, like imagining that vicars actually have sex (have you seen how many kids vicars usually have?!) and that regular parishioners are idiots. Ok, fair cop we’ll let you get away with that because much of the rest is insightful, witty, and based on (I said based on) real events and real people.  And Adam the Vicarage is likeable, vulnerable, and slightly shell-shocked. That is endearing. And Mrs Vicarage has a job. A job! Who’d have thought it.

anyone know an unconventional vicar's wife?

It is so close to life it feels a bit like an in-house training video for vicars. It should be compulsory viewing so that we all look at our stereotypes and run a mile. Am I the dull weedy vicar? Am I the scary Archdeacon? Am I the highly sexed parishioner? Am I the slimey smoothie-fuelled evangelical? Am I… Colin?

I loved the ending of Episode 2 when the Archdeacon stood with Adam to welcome Colin, broken and painful and annoying as he is. That is part of the charm of it – it is taking the mick out of the church, but you can tell it is written by someone with a deep love for the church. Maybe free-churchers won’t get it or vicars with sense-of-humour-failure (there’s plenty of us!) but if you know how the C of E works, it hits the mark. I’ll be watching, even if it clashes with church. And I will clean my own windows.

spot anyone you recognise?

Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news Colin.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the Archdeacon
and recovery of sight for Nigel,
to release Adoha,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”


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22 10 2009

2b free or not 2b free

2b free or not 2b free

So, ‘free speech’ then. What is it? How far does it go?  The idea is that we should all be able to express our views, then we choose which ones to adopt, to adapt, to ignore or to challenge. There are many caveats in this concept, as it has become built into the laws of our land. Some caveats are sensible. Some caveats are a little more open to (mis)interpretation.

Our society agrees that free speech doesn’t mean free reign. We are free to think what we like; but turning that thought into speech takes it up a level. That is the power of words, spoken or printed. It means that our freedom is expressed within an agreed framework. It’s a bit like speed limits. Why do we have them? Because as a society we have decided that yes, we want the freedom of driving; but no, we don’t want the freedom of doing that dance you do walking on the pavement when you both try and get out of each others way but end up bashing into each other – but in a car at 40mph. So we agree. We will drive within these limits. We will even stay our side of the dotted line for the same reason. A framework to freedom makes freedom more free.

2b free or not 2b free

2b free or not 2b free

So how much freedom should people have who’s views we might find distasteful? There’s a question. We are currently experiencing one of the (ironic) consequences of a liberal democracy: should Nick Griffin be able to appear on Question Time? To almost quote Meatloaf, who wasn’t talking about politics, “You can say anything you like, but you can’t say that”.  As the Manic Street Preachers sung, “If you tolerate this, your children will be next”. We will tolerate anything but we will not tolerate that. The BBC can broadcast anyone else’s views but not those. Question Time is an open political debate show – but not for those politics.

Thankfully it is not my decision, and probably nor is it yours.  So maybe what we need to be thinking about and discussing is not whether he should, but our response to the fact he is. There are lots of people and views that appear on TV that are offensive and distasteful, alongside lots of things that are amazing and beautiful. Do we passively accept them all, or do they spur us into action? Is this worse than Young, Dumb and Living with Mum or Shameless or Big Brother or the freak-show bullying of the X-Factor auditions?

Maybe it is. Maybe, as Ken Livingstone said on the Today programme, real people will actually experience real violence as a consequence of his airtime. Our response? SHOUT LOUDER THAN THE BNP! LOCK UP THE BNP! GAG THE BNP! BAN THE BNP!

Well, that might be our reflex. How about… Love every member of the BNP. Pray for every member of the BNP. Pray that they will be blessed. Not because of what they do or say: no, no. But pray that they will know the unconditional love of God. My guess is that people who support the BNP are probably what Jesus called ‘poor in spirit’: hurting, lonely, angry, frustrated, feeling helpless, lacking experience of love and the ability to show love. Some will have genuine grievances and what can seem like well-founded reasons for their feelings. And Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit‘.

Blessed. Are. The. Poor. In. Spirit.

That is them. It is them and those like them that he came for. It is them who he would hang out with today – the despised, the immoral, the taboos of our time. Love, love, love. Love stronger than death, and stronger than that which causes death – death in our hearts, families, communities, lives.

Yes, we must challenge their views. Graciously, calmly, firmly. Yes, we may be angry. Graciously, calmly, firmly.  And let’s turn that anger into action. Challenge stereotypes of immigrants, stick up for the cause of the homeless and fatherless, the widow and the orphan. Be gracious. Be loving. Be strong. Welcome the stranger into our land. Love the poor in spirit. Love the poor in spirit. For it is they whom God came to bless.

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Jesus, Matthew 5)

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